Community mourns Georgiana principal

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On Tuesday afternoon, the playground of R.L. Austin Elementary in Georgiana stood oddly silent. The hallways and classrooms of the nearby high school were empty. In fact, there seemed to be a hush over the entire town.

Hundreds of people quietly gathered in the auditorium of the town’s high school to pay their last respects to a man that for many epitomized Georgiana High – its principal, Roland Pettie.

Pettie, a 1965 graduate of McKenzie High, began his career as assistant football coach at McKenzie and physical education teacher at Austin, went on to serve as assistant and head coach at Georgiana, then assistant principal and principal since 1997 at the high school.

Many of Pettie’s former students and colleagues were in attendance at the 2 p.m. funeral service on Tuesday, joined by a number of the current students and staff of Georgiana High School. Many flowers, often in the Panther’s own beloved colors, decorated the front of the auditorium.

Some members of the senior class sported their Sunday best while others proudly wore their &uot;Class of 2005&uot; tee-shirts.

One senior, visibly shaken by her viewing of the casket, wiped her tear-stained face, saying, &uot;I can’t do this, I can’t do this&uot; before exiting the auditorium.

Most of the teens simply sat quietly as the auditorium filled and some were left standing in the back of the room.

Pettie’s sudden death following a massive heart attack last Friday night had left much of the community and the county stunned.

&uot;I still have a hard time believing it,&uot; said Dr. Kathy Murphy, principal of Greenville High School. &uot;Just last Tuesday we were all at a principal’s meeting – if someone had stood up and said, ‘One of you sitting at this table will not live through Friday night’, we just wouldn’t have believed it.&uot;

She recalled her fellow principal as a man &uot;with a wonderful sense of humor who didn’t take himself too seriously.&uot;

The Rev. Phillip Herring led in the opening prayer of the funeral service and shared some of the details of Pettie’s life of 57 years, including his first acquaintance with the (then) future principal.

&uot;I recall years ago at this new church the wonderful people there who loved the Lord,&uot; said Herring with a chuckle. &uot;I saw this one guy who started coming really regular – it seemed he had discovered this very pretty young lady named Carolyn. And Roland decided he wanted to make Carolyn his wife.&uot;

&uot;Those two had one son together, Brian, and Carolyn had two sons, Monte Bass and Ronald Bass,&uot; he added.

Herring remembered Pettie as a man whose school was &uot;his heart.&uot;

&uot;He was always talking about school, teaching, athletics – that was so important to them.&uot;

&uot;I once asked him for some advice of running a marathon and I expected some technical tips, you know. This is what he said: ‘Start runnin’. And that was good advice,&uot; recalled Herring with a smile.

John Peagler and Jeddo Bell also recalled a man of faith and dedication, with the Rev. Curtis Williams lauding Pettie for the crown he was sure this man who had fought the good fight had won in heaven.

Keith York, assistant principal and head football coach at Georgiana said

that Pettie was a Panther to the end.

&uot;He loved each and every child and he loved and lived for this school,&uot; he

said. &uot;I will never forget him.&uot;

York now assumes the duty as acting principal after being appointed by

Butler County interim Superintendent Wayne Boswell.

Butler County Board of Education President Linda Cook-Hamilton extended the board’s sympathy Monday morning to the Pettie family and the students and staff of Georgiana High School and praised Pettie’s work as an educator.

Sports Editor Kevin Taylor contributed to this report.